ALLIED (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, some Sexuality/Nudity, Language and brief Drug Use

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Written by: Steven Knight

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, Anton Lesser, August Diehl, Camille Cottin & Charlotte Hope

On the surface, ALLIED sounds like a great film. It’s set during World War II and is rated R, meaning that we get graphic violence of undercover agents fighting Nazis. Robert Zemeckis has helmed many notable films in the past, meaning there was a sturdy hand behind the camera. Steven Knight has written stellar work in the past, turning a car ride into an intense drama and delivering one of the best gangster films of the 2000s. ALLIED also places Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard into a premise that sounds like it would make Alfred Hitchcock proud. However, this movie is just okay. Despite all of that promise and potential, this is a decent enough romantic-thriller that doesn’t really do anything remarkable.

The year is 1942 and the place is Casablanca. Canadian Air Force officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) has arrived on a top-secret assassination mission. Max has been assigned the role of “husband” to his French Resistance partner Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). Though the two begin as a fictional couple, Max and Marianne become a real couple after their mission succeeds. The two are madly in love and have a child together, which makes it all the more strange when Max is called in on a top-secret mission. You see, the higher-ups at Max’s job believe that Marianne may be a German spy. With a ticking clock and crucial information at hand, Max decides to disobey his superiors and investigate whether his newest mission is only a test or if his wife is actually a deadly double-agent.

ALLIED had plenty of potential from its Hitchcock-esque premise to the staggering amount of talent involved (both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes), but the film frequently falters under its own bloated weight. This period piece drama feels like a thriller that’s also trying juggle being a love story and potential Oscar bait. The end result is a mixed bag. There are strong moments though. Don’t get me wrong. A few sequences have a knack for turning everyday encounters and seemingly mild-mannered moments into something very tense. There is a palpable sense of a suspense and a ticking clock of urgency, while the script occasionally jerks the viewer’s suspicions around.

However, ALLIED takes a while to get into its thriller set-up. By a while, I mean that two-thirds of this film are actually the romantic thriller that was advertised, while the other third is dedicated to the couple falling in love amidst a war-torn country. There is enough believable chemistry between Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard to make you wonder if those tabloid rumors about an affair were true. Pitt and Cotillard play characters who are trying to go about their lives in severe circumstances (like frequent air raids as they try to tuck in for the night), but a few supporting faces stick out as well.

Jared Harris is phenomenal as Max’s commanding officer. His screen time may be limited, but Harris makes a strong impression as a tough-as-nails, good-hearted soldier who’s trying to do the right thing. Matthew Goode has a blink-and-you-missed it scene as a former veteran. Meanwhile, Simon McBurney is totally wasted as a “rat-catcher” for spies. His initial introduction was so strong that it made me excited to see more of this confrontational character. Unfortunately, that introduction is the only scene he’s present in. It also bears mentioning that German actor August Diehl played a scumbag Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and returns here…as another scumbag Nazi.

Even when ALLIED’s good performances, classy production values and so-so suspense works, the script gets bogged down in dull stretches of not much happening. Brad Pitt runs to one place and talks to a guy…only for that scene to be ultimately rendered pointless. So, he runs to another place and talks to another guy, but that might be a red herring. This process repeats throughout the film’s running time. Great thrillers can be made of dialogue and conversations. Just look at any of the recent John le Carre adaptations (e.g. A MOST WANTED MAN and THE NIGHT MANAGER). ALLIED isn’t one of these. Instead, it’s just poorly paced and lazily written.

This movie feels like it’s suffering from an identity crisis about what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a WWII drama? Is this a Hitchcockian thriller? Is this a beautiful love story or a star-powered piece of failed Oscar bait? It’s a combination of all of these and winds up as a mixed bag of a movie that’s okay at best. This film is watchable and has a handful of good qualities, but that’s not necessarily high praise. When you consider all of the talent that went into it, ALLIED seems like even more of a letdown. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but just disappointingly decent.

Grade: B-

ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, Thematic Elements and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Written by: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper & Bill Collage

(based on the video game ASSASSIN’S CREED by Ubisoft)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed & Matias Varela

Before diving into the nitty gritty of this review, it should be noted that I haven’t played a minute of the ASSASSIN’S CREED video games and am judging this purely as a film. To be perfectly honest, I walked into this movie blind and didn’t know what to expect from the plot at all. I simply went into theater wanting a cool action flick with some neat ideas. Though there are definitely a few neat ideas at work and three stellar action sequences, ASSASSIN’S CREED suffers from never reaching its full potential and wasting great talent (both on the screen and behind the scenes).

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Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a murderer facing his execution by lethal injection…only to awake in the mysterious Abstergo facility after he’s “died.” This strange corporation is heavily guarded, shrouded in secrecy and has a bunch of violence-prone individuals being subjected as human guinea pigs to a genetic scientific experiment. Scientist Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) wishes to use Callum to discover the key to world peace. She hopes to accomplish this by unethically forcing Callum to relive memories of a long-dead assassin ancestor in 1492 Spain and then using that knowledge to recover an ancient artifact known as “The Apple of Eden.” However, Sophia’s father Alan (Jeremy Irons) may have nefarious motives for possessing this powerful device. As Callum lives out centuries-old genetic memories, he finds himself becoming slowly gifted with extraordinary abilities and realizing that a creed of ancient assassins is still very much alive.

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From what I can gather, this film follows a similar structure to the ASSASSIN’S CREED video games. However, this cinematic version of the story has a difficult time balancing the present and the centuries-old past storylines. This is especially a bummer, because both narratives have potential in different ways. The present-day scenes disappointingly come off as exposition-crammed filler between the past’s action that showcases a major conflict between the assassins and the Spanish Inquisition. If this movie had taken place entirely in the past, it might have been a hundred times better in quality. The three flashbacks/genetic memories are easily the film’s highlights, with the middle portion being a stellar chase sequence and sticking out as the best scene in the movie.

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To further add insult to injury, CREED wastes a significant amount of time in repeating information that has already been shown to us. Even though it repeats certain plot points to the peak of annoyance, the script somehow manages to remain frustratingly vague in other key details of the storyline. We are told about the Apple of Eden in an opening text crawl, then it is reiterated in a prologue (rendering the opening text as totally useless), and then this information is repeated about three more times in the Abstergo building. Once or twice would have been enough to inform the viewer of this literal plot device, but this repetitive approach managed to make me feel like I was being treated like an idiot. The same can be said of Callum’s character, whose entire development hinges on a single incident from his past and a throwaway line of dialogue detailing the reason for his execution. The former is harped upon for about 15-20 minutes of screen time. A single memory doesn’t make for a well-developed protagonist, especially when his past ancestor is far more interesting.

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The annoying repetition of information also occurs during the film’s (mostly) stellar action sequences, which feel the need to frequently cut back to Callum in the Animus (the genetic memory machine). Though this may have worked in the games(?), it feels like we’re just watching Callum play an extreme virtual reality game…as opposed to reliving memories of his long-dead assassin ancestor Aguilar de Nerha (also played by Fassbender). This effect slightly diminishes the enjoyment of the action scenes at hand, constantly reminding the viewer of their purpose as opposed to simply letting us enjoy the lethal mayhem.

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The script’s frustrating vagueness mainly involves a shadowy group of villains, known as the Templars (based on actual history), and these antagonists are barely mentioned with any sort of context. The biggest issue with this lack of detail is that the Templars play a huge role in the story and newcomers know next to nothing about them. There’s also an eye-rolling leap into supernatural territory towards the last third that may outright lose viewers who were enjoying the film up to that point, mainly because there was no hint or explanation of why the plot would suddenly move into that genre. On a similar and yet slightly unrelated note, ASSASSIN’S CREED really drops the ball in its finale that seems to feature a ton of build-up to a very weak pay-off that ultimately ended with an obvious cliffhanger for a sequel.

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Most of this review has been spent with me writing about the action-packed pros of the past plot and the many cons of the present plot with no mention of acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and other details. Well, that’s because all of those things are well above average for your typical video game movie. Fassbender, Cotillard and Irons add a classy sense that ASSASSIN’S CREED is trying to set itself apart from past game-to-movie misfires. The film’s visuals, set design, action choreography, effects and rousing score kept me interested in the proceedings. However, these good qualities only further show how 99% of the film’s impossible-to-ignore problems stem from the sloppy script.

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At the beginning of 2016, many moviegoers were hoping that this year would change the bad reputation of video game movies. WARCRAFT was being touted as a summer tentpole and ASSASSIN’S CREED was something to look forward to in the holiday season. In true 2016 fashion, both of these films let folks down. Neither of these movies are truly terrible in my opinion, though I definitely enjoyed WARCRAFT more than ASSASSIN’S CREED, but they only serve as okay entertainment at best. With better writing, ASSASSIN’S CREED really could have been something special. Instead, this movie is just another messy attempt to bring the excitement of a video game to the big screen and not quite pulling it off.

Grade: C+

My Top 15 Films of 2015

List by Derrick Carter

2015 was a great year for cinema. So much so, that I’ve decided not to make a “Top 10 Films” of the year, but a “Top 15” instead. It should be noted that I haven’t seen every single movie that came out during the past twelve months. I’m one man after all and only pay money for and spend time on stuff that interests me. That being said, I reviewed 132 new releases during 2015. There are a few movies that I plan on covering and could have potentially made this list if I had seen them in 2015. These are: THE REVENANT, CAROL, ANOMALISA, and SON OF SAUL. The fifteen titles that did make the cut are flicks that I absolutely loved, plan on adding to my collection, and rewatching many times for years to come. I don’t expect everybody to agree with all of them, but hopefully I’ve recommended a couple of films that peak your interest.

Before getting into list itself, I feel a few honorable mentions are in order. BRIDGE OF SPIES showed that Steven Spielberg has not lost a shred of talent over the years. THE JINX proved to be a groundbreaking true-crime documentary that literally made history. Coming off a string of misfires, Melissa McCarthy delivered her funniest comedy yet in SPY. Finally, on the scary side of things, KRAMPUS is a great holiday horror-comedy that I plan on making an annual Christmas tradition and GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a freaky shudder-inducing little nightmare. Without further ado, I’ll move onto my favorite films of 2015…

15. Black Mass

15. BLACK MASS: Throughout the years, Johnny Depp has become a ghost of his former talented self, but delivered one of his best performances ever this year. He disappeared into the role Whitey Bulger and became a terrifying on-screen monster. The story is a complex one that couldn’t easily be told in the space of a two-hour film. Though I feel it would have been a modern crime masterpiece if 30 more minutes had been tacked onto the final third, director Scott Cooper did a phenomenal job portraying one of the most notorious gangster stories in American history. Depp isn’t necessarily the star of this movie as the rest of the cast is especially strong. Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, and many more round out a great ensemble picture. It might not be a modern GOODFELLAS, but I’d rank it as a modern CASINO. BLACK MASS is easily one of the best real-life gangster films to come out of the new millennium.

14. It Follows

14. IT FOLLOWS: In the vein of the original HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, IT FOLLOWS is one of the single scariest viewing experiences that I’ve had all year. I attended a midnight screening at Sundance and everyone was losing their minds in the theater over this film. While it only has a few big jolts, IT FOLLOWS manages to get under your skin and stay there. I found myself getting progressively more creeped out when I arrived home and couldn’t stop thinking about the film. What’s even better about this movie is how it took the more difficult and complicated route instead of merely becoming a supernatural slasher. Instead, the film lets a dread-soaked atmosphere float around the viewer…and like “it” does to the characters themselves, that feeling follows you around long after the end credits have rolled.

13. Going Clear

13. GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF: The best documentary that I watched all year, GOING CLEAR is a fascinating and disturbing look into the inner workings of Scientology. Covering the formation of this so-called “religion” (you won’t blame me for calling it a cult after you watch this doc) to the huge amount of controversy surrounding it to the systematic abuse of its followers and opponents, GOING CLEAR is a harrowing watch. The testimonies from former members of the church are both chilling and heartbreaking. Some masterful editing also allows for brief moments of humor, such as a cheesy Scientology music video and an improvised awards ceremony invented specifically for Tom Cruise. As I stated in my review back in March, GOING CLEAR would almost be ridiculous and amusing, if it weren’t so devastating and terrifying.

12. Hateful Eight

12. THE HATEFUL EIGHT: It might not be Tarantino’s best film, but I loved the hell out of the HATEFUL EIGHT! A far more contained story than Tarantino’s recent Oscar nominees, this is pretty much RESERVOIR DOGS set in the Old West with more suspense. Besides that familiar set up, Tarantino manages to milk a massive amount of tension from each scene leading up to many unexpected revelations, over-the-top gore, and sick humor. I was on the edge of my seat throughout, almost fell out of my chair laughing at one point, and left totally satisfied.

11. Kingsman

11. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE: Nobody expected this movie to be nearly as good as it was. The two best descriptions I can give KINGSMAN are that it’s either the KICK-ASS of spy movies or a very R-rated take on SPY KIDS. The film is wild, crazy, fast-paced and never takes itself seriously. In a year that’s been populated by plenty of superheroes, KINGSMAN is my favorite comic book adaptation of 2015. The church scene alone was one of the most jaw-dropping sequences I’ve sat through all year. The rest of the film is hugely entertaining and has the balls to take risks. KINGSMAN was definitely one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had all year, but it was upended by…

10. Gift

10. THE GIFT: This is the biggest surprise that I had in 2015. The trailer made it look like a generic thriller that had already been done a million times before. However, this can all be chalked up to bad marketing because Joel Edgerton pulled triple duty and put his heart into this well-crafted shocker. The film intentionally misleads the audience through various points before unleashing big bombshells upon them. The ending also left me speechless and contemplating it for days afterwards. This is one of those films that is pretty much guaranteed to generate a discussion with other film-loving friends. THE GIFT is not a predictable black-and-white thriller, but something much deeper and far scarier.

9. MI5

9. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION: The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series has had its ups and downs. The first was good. The second was crap. The third was great. The fourth was fun. However, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the fifth installment of this high-octane spy series would be the best of the bunch thus far. That was definitely the case as ROGUE NATION unleashed compelling high stakes, brought back old characters as if no time had passed at all, introduced a cool new ones, and had some fantastic set-pieces. In many ways (Bond girl, villain, secret evil organization), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION was a far better Bond movie than the actual Bond movie we received this year.

8. Crimson Peak

8. CRIMSON PEAK: This gorgeously realized film feels like Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen penned a novel together and then Guillermo Del Toro adapted it to the screen. Those who go in expecting endless jump scares and a typical ghost story will find themselves either let down or elated by the film being a gothic romance that happens to contain some very frightening ghosts and thick horror elements in its story. Every frame of the film is beautiful to look at and atmospheric beyond belief. There are shots of this movie that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I originally saw it and I believe it’s among the very best of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography. Jessica Chastain is also a fearsome force to behold!

7. Spotlight

7. SPOTLIGHT: A tastefully made movie about one of the most disturbing cover-ups in recent history. SPOTLIGHT could have easily gone for shock value and went all out to demonize religion as a whole. Actually, that’s sort of what I was expecting it to do when I walked into the theater. Imagine my surprise at how restrained and respectful this film is. Aided by one of the most realistic looks at journalism that you’re bound to see on film, the movie packs in so much emotion without ever crossing the line into anything that possibly resemble shock value or cheap shots. Instead, the film asks tough questions, brings powerful performances to the screen, and leaves the viewer with a lot to chew on. This is one of the most important movies of 2015.

6. Macbeth

6. MACBETH: Shakespeare has been brought to the big screen in many ways by many different filmmakers. This beautiful, bleak take on the Scottish Play might just be my favorite Shakespeare movie thus far. With dialogue being delivered in a naturalistic manner and some creative licensing thrown into the centuries-old material, this version of MACBETH somehow improves upon the already perfect tragedy by adding unexpected context into the mix. Michael Fassbender is stunning as the title character, but it’s Marion Cotillard who steals the show. Lady Macbeth is actually made into a sympathetic character which is something that I felt could never, ever be accomplished in any take on the play. It’s also worth noting that this is definitely not a Shakespeare adaptation that will be shown in many high school classrooms, which is a very good thing indeed!

5. Sicario

5. SICARIO: In 2013, Denis Villeneuve wowed me with PRISONERS. In 2015, he returned with the complex cartel thriller SICARIO. A movie that never allows you to get comfortable in your seat or breathe normally throughout its entire running time, SICARIO is a grim, bleak, and depressing movie…and all the better for it. This thriller had a number of stand-out sequences, an intense beyond words finale being one of them. Villeneuve knew precisely when to merely imply the dark deeds occurring just beyond a locked door and when to casually showcase disturbing sights in broad daylight. Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are all fantastic in their parts. It’s likely that SICARIO will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve finished watching it, but just be prepared for that as there’s no glimmer of happiness or hope to be found within a single frame of this film.

4. Ex Machina

4. EX MACHINA: One of the best pieces of thought-provoking science-fiction to come out in a long, long time, EX MACHINA is a brilliantly crafted beast of a film. I loved everything about it when I first watched it back in April. The performances from the leads (likable Domnhall Gleeson, robotic Alicia Vikander, and scary Oscar Isaac) make for a film that’s pretty much a three character play. The uniquely designed house/research facility is almost a character as well, because the sense of claustrophobia and steadily rising tension become damn near nightmarish by the final third. The effects are excellently rendered and the film gets even better upon repeat viewings (little details stuck out more during the second and third times that I watched it). The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is just the icing on the cake for my fourth best film of 2015.

3. Room

3. ROOM: Difficult and immensely rewarding, ROOM is a drama like no other. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name (which in turn was inspired by a real-life kidnapping case), this film is tense and remarkably uplifting. Throughout the whole running time, the story walks a tightrope between being heartwarming and heartbreaking. It ultimately winds up with the best of both worlds as various audience members (including myself) were crying at various points throughout the film. As sad as it can be, I left feeling immensely uplifted by this beautiful movie about love and courage. Brie Larson (the frontrunner for Best Actress of 2015) and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay (giving one of the best child performances that I’ve ever seen in my entire life) are both wholly convincing and believable. I cannot praise this movie enough. It’s amazing!

2. Inside Out

2. INSIDE OUT: A family film that’s made more for adults than it is for children, INSIDE OUT wound up being one of the most emotional theater experiences of 2015 for me (pun fully intended). Though it may look sweet, innocent and cute on the outside, the movie packs a lot of emotional truths that will hit older viewers far more than kids who just want to watch a cartoon. It’s also the biggest tearjerker that I saw all year (right next to ROOM). The film is just beautiful and encapsulates everything that life itself in brilliantly creative ways. It also has one of the most mature messages that I’ve ever seen in a children’s film. It’s not only my second favorite movie of 2015, but my favorite Pixar movie thus far!

1. Mad Max Fury Road

1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Director/writer George Miller had over two decades to craft his fourth MAD MAX movie to perfection and that’s exactly what he did! MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was easily one of the most adrenaline-pumping, kick-ass movies that I’ve ever experienced in a theater. I loved it so much that I saw it twice within four days on the big screen and it has enjoyed many repeat viewings since its home video release. Though some fans have joked that it’s simply a two-hour chase scene, the story manages to encapsulate far more than that. There are issues of gender, slavery, religion, etc. that all come up in subtle (sometimes, obvious), smart ways throughout the film. The movie never stops to deliver heavy-handed exposition to the viewer and gives enough details so we can simply figure it all out for ourselves. The visuals look incredible as this apocalyptic wasteland was wholly convincing, in no small part due to practical effects, dangerous stunt work, and subtle green screen effects. FURY ROAD has joined the rare breed of perfect summer blockbusters that includes the likes of ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2. Bravo!

2015 was a year that was packed full of releases. Some were amazing, some were good, and others fell lower on the cinematic totem pole. It’s definitely been one of the most interesting years for cinema and I look forward to seeing what 2016 has in store for filmgoers!

MACBETH (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and brief Sexuality

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Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Written by: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie & Todd Louiso

(based on the play MACBETH by William Shakespeare)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki & David Thewlis

In the vast history of the English language, there has been no figure more influential or important than William Shakespeare. Reaching his popularity in Elizabethan London, Shakespeare penned 38 known plays. Some of these were histories (RICHARD III, HENRY V). Others were comedies (THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE). While these types of plays are great in their own ways, his tragedies have always struck a special place in my heart. Always revolving around one person’s downward (involving politics in CORIOLANUS, brought on by revenge in TITUS, etc.), these plays stand out as powerful works that function on both a primal level through their decidedly depressing emotions and on more sophisticated ground given the eloquent dialogue and complex characters. MACBETH, one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, has been adapted onto the stage and screen many times. With his second feature, director Justin Kurzel has impressively crafted what could very well go down as the definitive cinematic version of the “Scottish Play.”

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Macbeth is a Scottish general fighting for King Duncan in a violent civil war. After winning a particularly bloody battle, Macbeth and Banquo (his best friend and fellow general) come across a congregation of witches. These weird sisters prophesy that Macbeth will be crowned king. Initially writing off the strange premonition as the ramblings of some crazy women, Macbeth soon finds himself with an opportunity to dine with King Duncan. Spurred on by the urging of his cunning wife, Macbeth murders the Duncan and is crowned King of Scotland. Lady Macbeth starts to regret their evil deed, Macbeth slips slowly into madness, and a rebellion is beginning to brew in the countryside.

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The key to any good Shakespeare adaptation usually comes in the form of great performances. While there’s so much more to address in this movie, I need to praise the performers who perfectly encapsulate the complex cast of characters. Michael Fassbender easily brings the title tragic hero to life through stellar line delivery and little physical tics. Fassbender’s Macbeth isn’t simply a mad tyrant rising to power. He’s also a traumatized soldier and a father dealing with the untimely loss of his child. Paddy Considine is instantly likable as Banquo, while Sean Harris channels a quiet rage as Macduff. Though he doesn’t have a huge role, David Thewlis makes a strong impression as King Duncan. The real show-stopper is Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth. She’s remarkably unsympathetic in the first half of the film and then gradually earns some unexpected (and probably undeserved) sympathy from the viewer as the story moves forward.

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In any cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare, obvious changes need to be made in translating the original play onto film. What works on the stage won’t always work on the screen. Compacting Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy into a two-hour film leaves room for every important scene, but there are unconventional decisions in regards to how these moments are executed. The only major changes involving characters are there being more than three witches, only two assassins, and King Duncan having one son (as opposed to two). These are minor moves when you take into consideration how some of the play’s most famous speeches play out as well as a couple of dialogue-free sequences that add extra context to the characters. The Dagger speech is brilliantly translated with an addition that brings more weight to the words being spoken. Instead of following the play’s conclusion in a traditional way, a lot of ballsy decisions are made in the final 30 minutes of this film that somehow make Act V far more powerful than one could have possibly hoped for.

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On the technical side of things, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Every single frame looks beautiful. The fog-laden locations, elaborate sets, and convincing costumes are all aided by a soundtrack that sounds very appropriate to the time period of the story. As if the performances and unconventional choices weren’t doing enough to capture the melancholy tone of Shakespeare’s tragedy, these technical touches are icing on the bloody cake. It should also be noted that this is definitely one Shakespeare film that won’t be shown in many high school classrooms. The R rating is earned for graphic violence and two surprisingly sexual moments that fit perfectly into the context of the story. The former is demonstrated through a variety of scenes including a brutal finale that had me wincing. The latter comes from two sequences between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

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MACBETH is everything that I could have possibly hoped it would be and more. Unexpected twists on the often-visited Shakespeare tragedy make this interpretation stick out among its stiff competition. The performances are amazing, with Marion Cotillard being the best of the bunch. Stunning visuals, a beautiful soundtrack, and mature R-rated sensibilities only make it that much better. 2015’s MACBETH is as perfect as Shakespeare can be on the big screen.

Grade: A+

THE IMMIGRANT (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Nudity and some Language

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Directed by: James Gray

Written by: Ric Menello & James Gray

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Yelena Solovey & Dagmara Dominiczyk

It’s surprising that THE IMMIGRANT (which played Cannes last year and lost the highly coveted Palme d’Or to BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR) wasn’t labeled an Oscar contender last year (due to the asinine decision to delay the film until Summer 2014). Part of the blame for this move should be squarely placed on the shoulders of the Weinstein Company, having earned a dire reputation for constantly giving their filmmakers and films a raw deal (e.g. SNOWPIERCER). The rest can be leveled at director/co-writer James Gray himself. While there are areas that radiate with excellent filmmaking, THE IMMIGRANT has some noticeable problems that detracted from my overall appreciation of the movie. The story being told and the classy way that Gray sticks to telling it hearkens back to an era of filmmaking that isn’t seen too often in these modern times. This movie would have been right at home during the 1950’s and that’s both benefits and detracts from the quality.

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The time is 1921 and the place is Ellis Island. Ewa and her sister, Magda, have arrived from Poland only to face complications of legally getting into America. Magda is suffering from a bad illness and being kept in the Ellis Island infirmary, while Ewa is “lucky” enough to befriend a seemingly kind man named Bruno. Bruno is a pimp on the lookout for fresh young “talent” and sends Ewa into a downward spiral of prostitution that makes her existence a living hell. After meeting Emil, a talented street magician, it appears that Ewa may have found a glimmer of hope that makes life worth living after all. Thus enters a battle of wills between Emil and Bruno, of which Ewa hopes to come out unscathed with Emil.

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THE IMMIGRANT boasts some impressive cinematography and great performances. Marion Cotillard is arresting and sucks the audience into the character of Ewa. I felt for this poor young woman wanting a small slice of the American dream, but falling victim to a cruel world and unforgiving society. Jeremy Renner is Emil (a.k.a. Owen the Magician) and while he’s good, it felt like his character didn’t have a whole lot of screen time. He served the purpose as a love interest for Ewa and was clearly giving it his all, but the character wasn’t developed enough for his performance to be called outstanding. Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix (an actor impossible to typecast). As Bruno, I absolutely hated Phoenix from his first appearance. It’s not that his performance is bad, but rather so good that I found him to be a despicable excuse for a human being. There are moments that do flesh him out into far more than just a cardboard villain and I reveled that the role of Bruno was actually a character, not a mere moustache-twirling caricature.

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For a movie revolving around a Polish woman forced into a life of prostitution, everything is very restrained here. There’s not a whole lot of sexual content thrown up on the screen and the viewer is shown just enough to know the true misery that Ewa is going through. Again, director James Gray takes a classy approach to a dark subject. All of the set design and costumes whisk the viewer back into the 1920’s. The film is very accomplished as a period piece. The nagging thing is that some plot elements were done in an excellent fashion and others either seemed to be rushed or unnecessary. It almost seemed as if Gray and co-writer Rick Menello didn’t know which angles to follow and which ones to disregard, so every possible direction was thrown onto the screen and the film sadly suffers for that.

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While the dishonest relationship formed between Ewa (Cotillard) and Bruno (Phoenix) felt genuine, the introduction of Emil (Renner) needed some more time thrown in to be believable. The same can be said about Ewa’s rivalry with a jealous Polish whore. The angle of Ewa’s Catholic faith giving her strength also felt a tad unneeded. It’s not because the movie takes a faith-based preachy high ground (in fact, it’s quite the opposite), but this was another ingredient thrown into the story that felt rushed. Even with these pacing issues and unneeded story threads, the film does far more things right than it gets wrong. The haunting final shot packs such an artistic symbolism (not subtle in the slightest) that sends the movie out on a very satisfying note.

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THE IMMIGRANT doesn’t necessarily re-invent the wheel. The plot elements are familiar and this time period has been captured in film before, but the movie succeeds as a sophisticated story told in a lavishly constructed atmosphere. The performances from everyone range from good to fantastic, some suffering from underwritten characters. The script could have used some final touches that either expanded certain plot points or cut them out completely. With these flaws taken into consideration, THE IMMIGRANT still stands as a powerful movie. It also winds up being very good, when it could have been great.

Grade: B

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